Posted October 1st, 2001
The summer of 2001 held a new excitement for dinosaurs. Of course, there was the opening of Jurassic Park III, the third film in the successful series. But
there was also the touring of Sue, the most complete fossil of Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. The Sue skeleton that is currently on tour is actually a plaster cast of the original
fossil, which has been permanently on display at the Field Museum in Chicago for the past year.
Sue was found with 90% of her bones intact – except for one of her arms, a foot, the tip of her tail, and a few vertebrae. Fortunately, anything that was missing has
a duplicate copy in the skeleton itself. Early T. rex fossils were found only in broken pieces.
Sue is 42 feet long from snout to tail, 13 feet high at her hips and weighs a grand total of almost seven tons. Because most of the tail was intact, scientists were
able to determine that T. rex walked parallel to the ground, using its tail to balance itself.
Since Sue was discovered, there have been 15 other T. rex skeletons unearthed. The next most complete fossil is Stan, a 65% complete skeleton that was found approximately
eight miles from Sue’s final resting spot. In fact, because the two fossils were found so close together, some have suggested that Stan was actually Sue’s mate. Found along with Sue
was a skull of a baby T. rex, which also supports the relatively new theory that dinosaurs nested in family units, much like birds.
Sue gets her name from Sue Hendrickson, who discovered her in the South Dakota hills on August 12, 1990. "Sue" was an appropriate name for the find in another
way, considering the legal battle that followed. Maurice Williams, the rancher who owned the land, claimed that the bones belonged to him. After several years in court, Williams won
ownership of the bones, which he auctioned off at Sotheby’s for $8.7 million. The winning bidders were from the Field Museum, with assistance from McDonald’s and Disney World Resorts.
In addition to the movie and the touring plaster cast fossil, there were new and exciting discoveries about dinosaurs this summer. Two new species were discovered
in the American Southwest. Both specimens are 90 million years old and come from a time known as the "Cretaceous Gap" (105 to 75 million years ago), which paleontologists know
very little about.
One of the new species, the Nothronychus, comes from the same class as the T. rex and the Allosaurus. However, Nothronychus, unlike its famous cousins, was a plant
eater. The other new species is a coelurosaur, which is a small raptor-like predator.
Another major dinosaur discovery of the 2001 summer was the unearthing of an Egyptian dinosaur at the Bahariya Oasis. This dinosaur, named Paralititan, was a sauropod
between 90 and 100 feet long and possibly weighing as much as 80 tons.
Researchers plan to search the Bahariya area to possibly uncover other new fossils, including large predators. Joshua B. Smith, a doctoral student at the University
of Pennsylvania, discovered the fossil after digging in the area since 1999. Smith theorizes that because such large animals lived in the area, there are surely more fossils waiting
to be discovered. "We may have stumbled on dinosaur heaven at Bahariya," he says.
Use the Internet to learn more about dinosaurs. Choose a specific dinosaur and design a poster describing the mammal.